Vocabulary Extravaganza!

One of the Booking Through Thursday blogging ideas was the question of what you do when you find a word you don’t know.

It all depends for me.   Sometimes, I skip over and assume from context that it all works out.   Sometimes, I actually get up to find a dictionary.   And sometimes, I keep a list, for later.   I keep a journal and have EVERYTHING written in it:  grocery lists, to dos, phone numbers, sketches, notes to remember and just venting, and sometimes silly doodles.    I have no concerns about whatever is in it.   I love to start blank books and make a mess of them.   They are me.

So, when the BTT I’m referring to was all the rage, I had just started  House of Meetings by Martin Amis.   I enjoyed this book very much.    It had humor and horror.    Brutality and tenderness.    AND quite a few words I didn’t know.    Fortunately, none of these slowed me down or annoyed me.  

 Before I get to the list and give you all a chance to feel really good about big words you know that I didn’t, allow me to say that some of these words I write down as if I don’t know them and yet I MUST.    I can prove I’ve looked up some of these a thousand times.   I think it’s habit.   Or my brain wanting to laugh at me!     I can just hear my 11th grade English teacher telling me in that tone, “you know this.”     I wonder if I just don’t trust myself to KNOW it.   Anyway, I will show those words in bold.   

I am also citing paragraphs that impressed me but I gave my book to my book-friend and now can’t provide those passages for you!   SORRY.       If I wrote in my notes how the word was used, I put it in parenthesis.

I read this book as part of Trish’s HEY LADY! blog Novella challenge.   It was the ONLY book that popped up for me in my town’s library computer system when I asked it for novellas.    It was just under 250 pages.    So, this is sort of one of those books that found me.   

It’s a last letter to an only daughter from an old man who survived WWII and then prison camp in Siberia.   He himself waited until the end of his life to read a letter from his brother, the brother who married the woman that the old man had been in love with.   That letter was to explain WHAT HAPPENED in the “House of Meetings” on a particular date.  So, the old man’s letter tries to explain why he could never ‘just get over it and move on’, as well as how being Russian, he is and can only be what he is.  The book has treachery and brutality of war and politics all the while interweaving the details of the love triangle.    Though written by a Brit, the book attempts a Russian voice and brings up Tolstoy and Dostoevsky so it assumes the reader knows the specifics of what makes Russian literature “Russian.”     It is a fascinating look into a national consciousness.    Many interesting insights to all sorts of human dilemmas.

Ready for some words!?

P.10 – scalenehaving all sides unequal, usually in reference to a triangle

p.10 – verst – (defined in next sentence!)  Distance, barely more than a kilometer

p.11 – pelf – boodle: informal terms for money

.11 – claocal – (as in cloacal frenzies) – A sewer or latrine. Zoology. The common cavity into which the intestinal, genital, and urinary tracts open in vertebrates.

p.14 – cruising north, but downriver, which feels anomalous (I so understand!)

p.19 – rictus (mirthless rictus) – a gaping grin or grimace

p.27 – urka – orig. in camps, ‘hardened criminal’, ‘criminal type, tough guy

p.35 – solipsisticSolipsism (Latin: solus, alone + ipse, self) is the philosophical idea that “My mind is the only thing that exists”.

p.40 – scrufulous  Literally, relating to scrofula (tuberculosis of the lymph nodes, particularly of the neck)

 p.63 – tannoy – a loudspeaker

p.65 – seigneurism – spelling!?   Seigneuralism?  The tendency to define fixed, mutually exclusive stages of socio-economic

p.65 – insouciancecarefreeness: the cheerful feeling you have when nothing is troubling you

p.70 – obloquystate of disgrace resulting from public abuse

p.72 – voulucontrived or forced: said as of certain effects in a literary or artistic work

p.74 – sisters:  coercion, fabulation, amnesia

p.80 – onanismmasturbation: manual stimulation of the genital organs (of yourself or another) for sexual pleasure

p.95 – succubus – In medieval legend, a ‘succubus‘ (plural succubi; from Latin succubare, “to lie under”) is a female demon which comes to men, especially monks,

p.126 – regnant systemreigning; dominant, as a queen regnant

p.131 – entire paragraph!    …had quaffed sublimity and love.  

p.142 – modernity – I just like how that sounds….

p.151 – croupier – An empoyee of a European casino. Operates the roulette table with other croupiers.

p.167 – entire paragraph – comparing literature per its origin country…

p.168 – bilious (I prefer more bilious colors – browns and greens) – relating to or containing bile  

p.174 – who is Wilfred Owen?

p.181 – deliquesce – melt away in the process of decay

p. 222 – bathetic – effusively or insincerely emotional; “a bathetic novel”; “maudlin expressions of sympathy”; “mushy effusiveness”; “a schmaltzy song”; “sentimental

p.233 – entire paragraph – lifeful… specific deformation

p.241 – senex (from satyr to senex in an afternoon) – Latin for old man. In Ancient Rome, the title of Senex was only awarded to elderly men with families who had good standing in their village


After I had read this, I found a short story [God Sees the Truth, But Waits] by Tolstoy about a guy in a prison camp for many years even though he was innocent.  On the day he was exonerated by the guilty party confessing, they find the man dead in his bunk.  The end.     I wish I could explain how well this stamped in the concept of Russianness to complement the House of Meetings!    Futility?  is that what I’m supposed to get?   I think so.     Life sucks so get used to it?    And yet, it’s not presented to be depressing, it just IS.


 Other Reviews:

NY Times from Jan 2007

Taking Advantage of the New WordPress Search (for House of Meetings/Amis)

 One of my favorite book blogs! Verbivore at Incurable Logophilia


9 thoughts on “Vocabulary Extravaganza!

  1. I’ve never read the Tolstoy story, but it sounds similar to a novella entitled “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. It’s one of the most depressing things I’ve ever read!

    Wilfred Owen was a WWI poet who achieved acclaim after dying on the battlefied. His most famous poem is “Dulce Et Decorum Est”. It’s what I consider to be the best indictment of war ever written. Hey, now I’m going to have to write a tribute to him!

  2. @Lezlie, do you love Russian Lit? It to me is the one country that has so many authors pop to mind but… that’s about it.

    @Chartroose, THANKS for explaining who WO is. I look forward to further tribute from you! Did you notice that I had insouciance on my list!??! and…, do you keep changing your avatar?

  3. Your list started off well for me (hey, I help my daughter with 5th grade math- I’m familiar with the word scalene!) but it all went downhill from there! I think I would have been really frustrated with this book based on your vocab list!

  4. Yowie. Those are some big words (many of which I surprised myself by, if not knowing, at least having a vague idea of what they mean, or a memory of having encountered it before). I don’t know that I’d have stuck with such a book. I’m sure it made for slow going.

  5. Lisa and Susan,

    Actually, I was not frustrated with the words; I think I was just in the mood to stop and write down stuff, if that makes any sense. The book was very well-written and I didn’t get frustrated. MANY of the words were able to be absorbed into the paras with ease, but I just wanted to MAKE SURE, I knew the word. It was a parallel process and did not stop the flow of the story.

    I do think I was encouraged by the fact that it was under 250 pages AND that it was all I had on the plane to read, but I really did enjoy this book and it is amazing to me that I’m having a hard time explaining why. It is staying with me and I love that about a book!

    I went looking for reviews after and some of the reviews were way harder to read then the source!!!

    I was reading House of Mettings and on coming to the word”seigneurism” when I decided I’d glossed over too many words hoping I’d got the general sentiment.So I jotted it down on my book mark intending to look it up later in our hefty and disintegrating dictionary.Then before later came I googled it.
    I’ve never responded to anything more than an email on line before but I feel obliged given the coincidence of finding it quoted from the same book and to thank you for defining all the other words that I probably won’t understand in their order of appearance in book.What a service.Perhaps you can read some more books for me and do the same job!
    Also it was nice to discover that such a word exists,intrigued as I am that in our world of supposed social mobility and “free markets” that large swathes of society remain stuck more or less where they are.Are the limitations selfimposed as much as from on high.
    It was nearly as good as discovering the word “hedenism” when I was a teenager

Welcome! I invite you to comment. If for some reason commenting is troublesome, pls send email to BkClubCare [at] Gmail

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s